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Breaking Down the Barriers to Reporting
Posted by On Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Understanding why students are hesitant to report sexual assault is the first step to building better, more supportive responses.

College and university administrators are working hard to improve how they handle student sexual assaults by reworking their student handbooks, reconsidering their disciplinary procedures, and retraining their faculty and staff. Unfortunately, the impact of these efforts and improvements can go unnoticed. According to a BJS study, “more than 3 in 4 student victims of rape and sexual assault knew the offender.” These assaults often occur near the home of the victim/friend/relative/acquaintance, which means they can happen right on campus in the dorms, fraternity houses, or other areas. As such administrative safety measures should be present enough for the student population to be aware of and help them to feel safer on campus.

This article will explore some of the barriers to reporting, how some students view existing sexual violence prevention efforts, and ways administrators can bridge those gaps.

Students are Uncertain Whether Reporting Will Actually Help

In dealing with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted on her school’s campus, Hayley Himmelman, a Communication student at Northwestern University, felt that the issue of sexual violence has been getting buried at many institutions. To expose the problem, Himmelman produced a play called “Blue Lights,” based on a collection of interviews conducted with fellow NU students that portrays sexual violence, as well as what a healthy relationship looks like.

According to an online article published by the Daily Northwestern, “The play is centered on the University’s blue light phones placed on and off campus, which serve as quick ways to report crime and emergencies.” But the blue lights represent something else to Himmelman: a façade. “…the administration can point to [the blue lights] and say, ‘[t]hat’s, you know, how we protect our students from harm,’” said Himmelman, who believes that the lights give students a “false sense of security.”

The lights are installed. The system is in place. But to students who continue to experience sexual violence—whether at NU or other campuses—they are not enough. Even with these blue lights, or any of the other campus safety resources at their disposal on College and University campuses, many students choose silence over reporting. The reality for Hayley and for many other survivors is that assault can happen even while on campus. Make sure that students have victim support services and confidential counseling to go to for more information.

Alongside ensuring that students know where to go and what to do, it’s crucial that colleges make the reporting process well-known and foster a respectful, victim-centered, and secure environment on campus.

Here are some actions administrators can take on campus to create a safer and more supportive climate:

Increase the presence of campus security patrols on foot and in vehicles

  • Along with patrolling the more isolated areas on campus, it’s also a good idea to have campus security located in visible and high traffic areas, such as main entrances, and parking lots.
  • Having security patrol around campus acts both as deterrence for perpetrators, as well as sources who can witness and intervene in a potential assault or an assault in progress.
  • Have the campus security office be a well-known location so students can get help when needed.

Use emails and flyers to help reach out to the community and enhance communication between administration and the student body

  • Make these materials non-judgmental, easily accessible, detailed, and containing information such as steps to take before or after an assault and resources to reach out to.

Incorporate educational and prevention programs

  • “Sexual assault is a learned behavior,” states an article posted by the AAUW. “By fostering a campus culture of gender equity and respect through programming, “Sexual training, and awareness campaigns, faculty and staff can help prevent sexual assault. Faculty can also incorporate the issue of sexual assault into their curriculum whenever possible and whenever relevant to course content. Faculty and staff can also offer student workshops facilitated by trained faculty, staff, and students on campus.”

Students are Unaware of Available Resources on Campus

campus climate survey conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU) in September 2015 revealed that “[a]bout a quarter of the students generally believe they are knowledgeable about the resources available related to sexual assault and misconduct.” Over 150,000 students from 27 participating institutions took this survey, but 75% of them aren’t aware of their schools’ resources.

Even the best-developed program will be ineffective if 75% of the students on campus don’t know about it. Here are some things administrators can do on campus to make sure students know about campus resources:

Organize and participate in public awareness initiatives

  • Having administrators be present on campus shows students that the school cares about their knowledge and safety, which helps make the campus a more accepting place. Consider which existing campus organizations and resources the school can engage to help set up these initiatives.
  • Some educational and public awareness initiatives that spread information and support to students include It’s on UsWhite Ribbon Campaign, and Take Back the Night.

All colleges and universities should have a Title IX Coordinator

  • As someone who is responsible for overseeing all complaints of sexual misconduct and discrimination, as well as identifying and addressing patterns and problems on campus, this role is very important to aiding in student safety. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a post on this matter, stating that “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released helpful tools to provide Title IX Coordinators with vital resources to help them do their jobs better. Faculty and staff can help by making sure that these materials get into the hands of as many coordinators as possible to help them make sure students have access to educational opportunities.”
  • The Title IX Coordinator’s information can be included on class syllabi, posted fliers, newsletters, and definitely should be easily found on the school website. An email address, office number, and phone extension are helpful contact options for students to consider when reaching out for help.

Underreported Sexual Assaults Misrepresent the Scope of the Problem

11.2% of all students have experienced a form of sexual assault while on campus, and not many report the incident afterward. Mistrust of the reporting process contributes to sexual violence being a drastically underreported crime. The AAU’s climate survey revealed that “[a] relatively small percentage (e.g., 28% or less) of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organization or agency (e.g., Title IX office; law enforcement).”

Incidentally, underreporting can lead to a common belief that sexual violence is made out to be a bigger issue than it really is. However, the data shows that reports of sexual assault on college campuses have been on the rise in the past few years. As of February 2016, the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education is investigating 208 cases of civil rights violations involving sexual assault reports at 167 colleges and universities. And as college students become more aware of sexual misconduct and how to recognize it—through training programs, news stories, and so on—the number of reports are likely to continue rising, as long as students feel comfortable about reporting and know about (and trust) their school’s available resources.

Properly addressing reports of sexual violence is crucial to fostering an environment that encourages reporting. The more incidents that go unreported, the less information administrators have about the true scope of the issue.

survey of about 650 university presidents showed that ‘[a]bout one-third (32 percent) of respondents agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at American colleges and universities. But few presidents (6 percent) agree or strongly agree that sexual assault is prevalent at their institution.” With the recognition that sexual assault can happen at any campus, administrators are better able to address and be proactive about tackling the situation on their campus.

How Survivors Can Feel Safer Coming Forward

The Department of Education released resources to help improve campus climate, stating that “Research shows that students learn best when they are in environments in which they feel safe, supported, challenged, and accepted… By improving school climate, schools lay the foundation for improving daily school attendance and high achievement by all students.”

In order to reach that level of safety, students must feel comfortable with and confident in the resources provided by their school. Students should know there is someone to talk to and that their claim will be taken seriously. By reaching out to the student body—through training courses, well-marked signs, an easy to navigate website, posters/flyers, and the suggestions listed throughout this post—administrators can better equip students with the knowledge and confidence they need to report.

Though the overall goal is to reduce incidences of sexual misconduct, administrators must first be aware of the magnitude of the issue. A more aware and responsive administration can encourage students to report sexual violence—which informs how administration can resolve sexual violence on campus—and opens the door for further opportunities to support. Increased student reporting and effective administrative response can feed back on each other, creating a safer, more equitable campus.

Here are some additional options to consider:

  • Some college and university campuses have adopted the use of technology as a tool to enhance safety measures, “like video surveillance, swipe entry cards, emergency text message notification, and blue light emergency phone systems.” Consider which safety methods might be a good addition to a college campus.
  • Fix every broken or dim light on campus (including parking lots, pathways, halls, and lobbies). Students should be able to see where they are going and who is around them. This can provide benefits like students attending more night classes and reducing other crimes, like theft.
  • “Get out of the office, walk the campus, and listen to students, staff, and the community,” states a University Business article on creating a more secure campus, “People will feel safer if you are among them. Listening to them can also alleviate quite a bit of anxiety, which often comes out of the feeling that the school foes not care about them individually.”

Learn how to prepare students for the challenges and responsibilities of college life through online compliance training. For more information, visit CampusClarity’s home page.

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Campus Climate Surveys: A tool for creating anti-racist policies and procedures
Posted by On Thursday, November 12, 2015

Articles in the Chronicle, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and many others have detailed racism at colleges and universities. Student Activism has put racial microaggressions, incidents of blatant racism, and institutionalized racism into the media and in many cases has already led to action by administration.

In 2013, the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan started the #BBUM, or Being Black at U of M, campaign to bring awareness to the experiences of students of color on campus. This campaign received national attention and coincided with a list of demands to administration for improving the campus climate for students of color, and specifically Black and African American students, on campus.

Similar events have taken place at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) and Yale and student solidarity seems to be spreading to campuses around the country. While the situations at Mizzou and Yale have played out differently, the student activists are responding to similar frustrations with ongoing racism that has been left unaddressed by the school. Students are getting fed up with their institutions claiming “diversity” and “inclusivity” when their lived experiences tell them otherwise. Students are getting fed up with leaders not taking racism on campus seriously. And students are getting fed up with acts of blatant racism receiving no repercussion.

What does campus racism have to do with the campus climate around sexual assault? A lot. Campus climate is holistic in that it defines how students experience their time at a school. However, it has many different facets. Lately, we have been focusing on campus climate and how it relates to sexual assault (including sexual violence, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and dating/relationship violence). The racial climate on campuses definitely plays into how students perceive the climate around sexual assault.

If a student does not feel included, safe, or welcomed on campus, if a student does not feel supported by administrators, if a student does not feel a sense of community, if a student does not see faces who look like them in positions that matter, if a student is struggling every day just to survive in a space that is stacked against them, what is to make them want to report? Or even if they want to, what is to make them feel safe reporting?

Similarly, if the perpetrator of an assault was a student of color, reporting can be an especially complicated decision. If reporting means giving another reason for people of color to look like criminals or perpetrators of violence, survivors might be hesitant to report due to the potential harm to their community – perhaps the only community they feel a part of on campus.

So what does all of this mean? Sexual assault education, response, and policies are not one-size-fits-all. A survivor-centered approach needs to take into consideration the unique experiences of each survivor, including how their culture, community, and identities intersect with that experience. The Department of Justice suggests that a “culturally relevant, survivor centered approach” needs to have the following components:

  • Is grounded in the experiences of all survivors on campus. This requires the campus to understand not only the dynamics of the crimes, but the nuances that each crime presents and how these crimes are experienced by diverse groups of survivors on campus.
  • Takes into account cultural contexts in order to better understand the survivor’s experience and how this may affect such actions like a survivor’s decision not to report or seek services.
  • Is flexible and adaptable to the needs of survivors so they are not re-traumatized by the campus’s efforts.
  • Prevents the creation of processes, protocols and systems that support institutional interests over survivor’s needs.

At the 2015 NASPA conference, a session titled “Considering Students of Color in Sexual Assault Prevention” by Luoluo Hong, Mark Houlemard, Ross Wantland, and Patricia Nguyen discussed using a social justice framework when thinking about sexual assault on college campuses. To do this, it is imperative that administrators recognize that racism and sexism are “interlocking systems of oppression” and doing anti-sexism work also means doing anti-racism work. One of my main takeaways from this session was when Hong suggested replacing the word “students” in your sexual assault policies with “students of color.” And then ask yourself: Does the policy still apply? Is it realistic and comprehensive? Are students of color actually considered in the voices of victims and perpetrators? Most importantly, how is your sexual assault prevention work anti-racist?

How does this relate to Climate Surveys? As we previously wrote, Sexual Assault Campus Climate Surveys are being considered a “best practice response to campus sexual assault.” One of the most beneficial usages for climate survey data is being able to sort and filter it based on demographics like class standing, gender, sexual orientation, and race. When you administer your campus climate survey, pay special attention to the perceptions and experiences of students of color. Compare the experiences of white students and students of color for questions about reporting sexual assaults, perceptions of campus safety, and bystander behaviors. Reporting numbers have been low across campuses (2-5%) when participants were asked if they reported the assault through official school systems. This data needs to be cross-tabulated with different demographics to isolate data about how race impacts perceptions and experiences with sexual assault. Climate surveys are a great tool to gauge racial disparities on your campus and can lead to creating policies and procedures that are anti-racist.

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Campus Climate Survey Results: AAU Releases Aggregate Data about Sexual Assault
Posted by On Monday, September 21, 2015

Today, the Association of American Universities released aggregate data from the climate survey it conducted at 27 of its member campuses. The results reinforced some of the findings from other campus climate surveys, but also revealed startling new information about how students respond that could inform campus’s prevention programs.

The AAU report says that “the primary goal of the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct was to provide…information to inform policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.” They survey assessed the incidence and prevalence of sexual assault, the perceptions of risk, the knowledge of resources, and the likelihood of action.

Just over 150,000 students participated in the survey, giving a response rate of around 19%. When students were offered a $5 Amazon gift card, their response rate was 9.3% higher than when they were offered drawing entry or no incentive.  The response rate for females was 7.3% higher than for males. Results varied across the 27 campuses who administered the AAU survey, and it is expected that many schools will release their individual data as well. Although the response rate was lower than desired, this survey gives us one of the largest data pools of its kind.

Overall, there are some findings that are consistent across all campuses.

  • Results confirmed the widely cited statistic that “one in five” women will experience sexual assault while at college.
  • Transgender, Genderqueer, and Gender Nonconforming students are more likely to experience sexual assault or misconduct across all categories.
  • About one quarter of students reported feeling very or extremely knowledgeable about where to report sexual assault.
  • More than 75% of sexual assault cases were never reported using official systems of reporting.
  • Males are more optimistic than females that someone who reports a sexual assault will be supported by their peers.
  • The most common reason for not reporting sexual assault was that it was “not considered serious enough,” with high numbers also in feeling “embarrassed or ashamed” and “did not think anything would be done.”
  • Over a quarter of senior females reported experiencing sexual contact by force or incapacitation since entering college.

Some of the most interesting results of the findings related to perception of risk and bystander behaviors. Around 20% believe that sexual assault is very or extremely problematic on their campus, but only 5% thought that it was very likely that they would experience it. Over half of students who had witnessed someone acting sexually violent or harassing said they did nothing to intervene. Over three quarters of students who had witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter said they did nothing to intervene.

What does this mean for student affairs professionals and college administrators? There are a number of action-steps that can be taken from the information gathered through this survey.

  • Sexual assault and misconduct are massive problems on college campuses, and not isolated to individual institutions who are in the media.
  • Even when people believe sexual assault is a rampant problem on their campus, they are unlikely to believe it could happen to them. Students need to be given a realistic understanding about the context of sexual assault on college campuses.
  • Although very few students reported through official means, most students told a friend. Students need the resources and tools to be able to help friends who have experienced sexual assault or misconduct.
  • Students didn’t report for a number of reasons, but most frequently because they did not consider it serious enough. If schools want accurate reporting numbers, they need to send a clear message of what is included in sexual assault or misconduct policies.
  • Most students did not intervene even when they noticed a potential sexual assault. Bystander intervention efforts need to focus both on recognizing what constitutes sexual assault or misconduct and also build motivation for intervention, give students the tools they need, and develop the skills and confidence to intervene.

If you’d like to learn more about climate surveys and discuss ways that you can develop your own or use the aggregate data from the AAU survey to inform your campus programming, join us on Tuesday, October 13th for a webinar with Jessica Ladd from Sexual Health Innovations and Peter Novak from the University of San Francisco. Register at http://bit.ly/1KP34ZT.

To view the entire 288-page report, go here.

To view the survey tool developed by Westat, go here.

To view the fact-sheet summary, go here.

 

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, June 5, 2015

The University of San Francisco adopts an innovative new reporting tool, an in-depth look at the facts of false rape reports, and a look back at gains made by student activists over the past year.

USF Launches Online Reporting Tool Callisto

A while back we reported on a new online reporting tool, Callisto, whose proponents believed could dramatically improve the experience of victim/survivors who wanted to report their assaults. Now, for the first time, a university has made plans to use Callisto to allow its students to report sexual violence. The school in question is the University of San Francisco, an institution which has taken the lead on sexual violence prevention in the past, notably collaborating with CampusClarity to produce the first Think About It program. According to USF Vice Provost of Student Life Peter Novak, Callisto can “really change culture” for reporting on the USF campus. The app, which was developed by nonprofit Sexual Health Innovations, has numerous features that could be helpful for a victim/survivor of sexual assault, including the ability to make a time stamped report that they can choose to send in later or if the same perpetrator is named in a subsequent report.

The Cold, Hard Facts of False Rape Reports

It is sometimes claimed that false rape reports could represent anywhere from 1.5% to 90% of the total number of reported rapes. While that range—all but meaningless in its width—may have once represented the extent of our knowledge about the prevalence and nature of false rape reports, today numerous studies have provided a much clearer picture of the nature of this particular problem. This piece from Vox takes a look at studies that took a more rigorous approach to determining whether a report was false or not, either by looking at reports from police who had been trained on the definition of a false report or by investigating the facts of a case to determine whether the evidence did indeed suggest a false report. These studies, taken together, support the growing consensus amongst those who follow issues of sexual violence that false reports account for between 2% and 8% of total reports of rape. They also reveal some interesting, potentially important trends in those false reports. Nearly 80% of false reports “fit the definition of an ‘aggravated rape’”—one involving a weapon, multiple assailants, or injury to the victim/survivor. Almost 50% of false reports described the perpetrator as a stranger as opposed to an acquaintance. Most reports were filed within a day of the alleged incident. According to one researcher, false rape reports were more likely to provide a “clear and coherent” timeline of the attack. These facts suggest that individuals who make false rape reports tend to stick to a narrative based on common misperceptions about how most rape occurs. It also suggests that many of the features of a report traditionally seen as potential “red flags” of a false claim—a delayed report, a confused and confusing story, situations involving intoxications or perpetrators known by the victim/survivor—may in fact be just the opposite.

Big Gains for Activists in 2015

Despite the numerous stories we cover in this space about the work that still needs to be done, there have been real successes over the past few years for those working to prevent campus sexual violence. This piece from the Huffington Post covers notable successes of a very important player in this fight—student activists. These include efforts to improve campus safety and school policies, the successes of the “It’s On Us” campaign, and reforms made by schools at the behest of student activists.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 17, 2015

This week we have an app that will streamline reporting on college campuses, a new book on a campus sexual assault case by the author of Into the Wild, and a diverse collection of viewpoints on how to achieve progress on preventing campus sexual assault.

New App Promises to Improve Reporting of Sexual Assaults

Three higher education institutions are expected to pilot a new system for reporting sexual assaults. Developed by Sexual Health Innovations, the system is called Callisto after a nymph from Greek mythology. The system offers students information about how to report a sexual assault to their college and local law enforcement agencies. If students choose to report, they can do so through Callisto. If they choose not to report, they can still record information about the assault through the system. Although the school will not be able to see this record without the student’s permission, the school will be able to see aggregate statistical information about users of the system.

Importantly, Callisto has an additional feature that helps schools identify repeat offenders. Students who create a record on Callisto but choose not to file a report with their institution, can opt into a matching feature, which will send the school the reporter’s name and the name of the alleged assailant if someone else files a report on Callisto involving the same assailant. Some commentators, however, expressed concern over the privacy issues and legal protections for the system’s users. As Laura Dunn, a lawyer by training and the founder of an advocacy group for Survivors of sexual assault, explained: “As a survivor and as an activist, I think this is amazing… as a lawyer, I am cautious.”

Bestselling Author to Release Book on Campus Rape

Next week, Jon Krakauer, author of the best sellers “Into Thin Air” and “Into the Wild,” is releasing a book on campus rape. Krakauer’s new book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” discusses multiple sexual assault cases at the University of Montana (UM). UM was the subject of yearlong federal investigation into its handling of sexual assault complaints. Two years ago, UM entered into a Resolution Agreement with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice. The Joint Letter of Findings called the Resolution Agreement with UM a “blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country to protect students from sexual harassment and assault.” The Agreement provides information on important issues such as confidentiality, campus climate surveys, and standards of proof in campus adjudication processes. For the book, Krakauer relied on documentation of the investigations and adjudication of these incidents, as well as talks with psychologists about the effects of rape on survivors. According to the Wall Street Journal, “One takeaway from ‘Missoula’ is that every incident of alleged rape is different, and ambiguities abound. Mr. Krakauer provides no sweeping conclusions.”

9 Perspectives on What Will Signal Progress on Campus Sexual Assault

The Chronicle of Higher Education has collected diverse responses to the question, “what will signal progress on sexual assault at colleges and universities?” The viewpoints range from providing survivors with the tools they need to heal, to ensuring a fair process for everyone involved, to beginning prevention training before college. The contributors include lawyers, advocates, and administrators, including The President of the University of Montana. All of the pieces point to the important leadership role schools play in addressing this issue through training and strong policies and procedures around sexual violence. As Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, the co-founders of End Rape on Campus, suggest in their essay: “Change will come only when colleges lead it, rather than follow the efforts of the students who expect their guidance.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, November 21, 2014

Mandy Van Deven reports on the factors that keep schools silent on sexual assault and harassment, a new niche arises for attorneys defending young men accused of sexual assault, and the Association of American Universities plans to conduct its own campus climate survey.

Why Wouldn’t School Administrators Want to Talk About Sexual Assault?

Journalist Mandy Van Deven filed a report with Newsweek, as part of a crowdfunded reporting project to examine how schools respond to sexual assault and harassment against their students. In this report, Van Deven examines some of the factors that discourage schools from discussing sexual assault and harassment. She points to the unfortunate fact that teachers don’t have the tools to have meaningful conversations about sexual harassment. Furthermore, schools that do a better job reporting sexual misconduct may have higher reported rates of assaults and thus appear to have worse problems than other schools with less rigorous reporting and enforcement. She also points to the fact that no school has ever actually lost funding under Title IX. Van Deven’s work on this subject continues and we’ll be reporting on the project in future posts.

Attorneys for the Accused

As the pressure on schools to take substantive action to prevent sexual violence increases, so does the number of accused perpetrators who are arguing that their civil rights were violated in the process of investigations and disciplinary hearings. The result is a rapidly growing legal specialty: Lawyers who represent young men disciplined for sexual misconduct. These lawyers claim that basic due process rights such as the right to cross-examine witnesses and present a defense are being lost in the rush to do something about campus sexual assault. In many cases, they are using laws like Title IX on behalf of accused perpetrators, claiming that their clients are being discriminated against because they are male. Critics have pointed out that turning a conduct hearing into an adversarial proceeding with lawyers representing students accused of sexual misconduct can further confuse the process, getting schools into even more trouble with Title IX. Columbia University has addressed this problem by offering free legal help to both parties, but the university’s special adviser on sexual assault prevention and response says, while “lawyers can help protect the rights of accused students . . . they come at a potential cost” to what is supposed to be an educational process.

The Association of American Universities Climate Survey

The Association of American Universities plans to develop and conduct an anonymous campus climate survey regarding sexual misconduct for those AAU members that elect to join the survey for about $85,000 per school. The survey will be conducted in April of 2015 and aggregated results will be published the following fall. According to the AAU president, Hunter Rawlings, part of the goal behind the project is to preempt a Congressional mandate “that every campus conduct a government-developed survey in the near future, which will likely be a one-size-fits all survey that does not reliably assess the campus culture on this issue.” Although Sen. McCaskill, author of a bill that would require surveys administered by the Department of Education for all institutions of higher education, has praised the survey, critics suggest that a survey whose results will be published in aggregate only is a convenient out for institutions that might otherwise have to provide campus-level data,which would allow students and parents to compare results between schools.

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How Can Campuses Improve Reporting?
Posted by On Monday, November 17, 2014

After schools released their Annual Clery Reports last month, it became apparent that the number of reported sexual assaults was on the rise. But rather than interpreting these numbers as a crime wave on college campuses, most experts saw the increase as a good sign. It meant that awareness about sexual assault was spreading on campuses, reporting procedures were improving, and survivors felt more comfortable coming forward. As the headline at the Huffington Post announced, “Colleges are Reporting More Sexual Assaults, And That’s A Great Sign.”

But if schools want to improve reporting even more, what are some steps they can take to make it happen?

Inform Students What Constitutes Sexual Violence

The reasons survivors of sexual violence choose not to report their assault to the police are complex and varied. There are of course obvious factors like the availability and accessibility of resources. Other important factors that can influence the decision to report include shame, fear of retaliation, distrust of authorities, and cultural or familial pressures.

Research also suggests, however, that how students understand an incident influences whether or not they report. According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study (2007), the most common reasons for not reporting were related to individuals’ perception of the incident. Over half of all victims who didn’t go to the police said they didn’t think the incident was serious enough to report and over a third didn’t report because they were unsure that what they experienced was a crime.

Similarly, when studying the informal disclosure of intimate partner violence, researchers Kateryna Sylaska and Katie Edwards found that the motives the survivors attributed to their partner’s violence also mattered. When individuals attributed their partner’s violence to “anger or jealousy” they were more likely to talk to someone than when they attributed that violence to “controlling, protecting, or a loving motive.” This research points to the importance of teaching students what behaviors qualify as sexual assault. Many students simply don’t know.

Train Your Campus on How to Respond to Disclosures

Most survivors, however, do tell someone about their assault. It’s just that most choose not to go to the police, campus authorities, or formal support services. For example, according to the Campus Sexual Assault study, while only 16% of physically forced sexual assault victims and 8% of incapacitated sexual assault victims visited a formal support service, and a paltry 13% and 2% respectively went to a law enforcement agency, 70% and 64% disclosed to someone close to them: a friend, family member, roommate, or intimate partner. Thus, if we wish to help survivors, it might be worthwhile to train students, faculty, and staff on how to respond when someone discloses a sexual assault to them. These informal support networks can also give survivors information about physical and mental health services they need and act as conduits to other university resources.

Give Survivors Choices

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind, that not all responses to survivor’s disclosures are equally helpful. Some can dissuade them from seeking further help or even re-traumatize them. In their research, Sylaska and Edwards discovered some important facts about what reactions survivors found helpful.

Helpful reactions included

• providing emotional support,
• allowing the victim to talk about the abuse, and
• providing practical or tangible support (like a place to stay).

Negative reactions included

• pressuring the victim to act in a certain way,
• not taking the violence seriously, or
• blaming the victim.

Survivor responses to advice were mixed. Advice was helpful when sought, the researchers found, but unsolicited advice felt frustrating and disempowering. This is why pressuring a survivor to report can actually be harmful. After all, a survivor’s goals don’t always align with formal reporting. As one activist explained, “a survivor’s number one priority is not necessarily to get their perpetrator arrested, it’s about moving forward and feeling safe in one’s community and healing.” Indeed, one ongoing controversy currently debated on college campuses is the extent to which faculty and staff are required to report to higher ups when students disclose a sexual assault to them. Advocates worry that requiring employees to report takes control away from survivors, potentially inflicting more distress on them.

Given the emphasis on supporting survivor autonomy, however, there is a hopeful shift at some schools and police departments to a victim-centered approach, which focuses on the needs of the survivor. New York Magazine recently profiled the program “You Have Options” developed by Police Detective Carrie Hull for the Ashland Police Department. You Have Options gives survivors more control over their case, including the whether to pursue the complaint as an “anonymous tip or a full criminal investigation” and the option to “upgrade or downgrade their investigation at any time.” The program also follows best practices regarding interviewing victims and ensuring they are well supported throughout the process. Indeed, Hull’s original aim was to create a space where victims felt comfortable talking to the police. “We found we needed to get people to a place they didn’t feel like they were being pulled or pushed through the process,” Hull elaborated in the  article. “And instead they were leading the way.”

During Senator Claire McCaskill’s third roundtable on campus sexual violence, Hull talked about the program and her initial reservations that giving victims more control might hinder police from catching perpetrators. But she soon realized that this mindset was exactly wrong. The victims are “never responsible for the offender doing that next offense,” she explained. “The offender is responsible for that next offense, not the victim…what I think we have to realize is that we are doing something about it by allowing a survivor to enter the criminal justice system in the way that’s right for them” (1:02:46).

And Hull’s approach has had overwhelming positive results. According to New York Magazine, reports have increased by 106 percent since the program officially began last year. “We shifted our focus as a team to what does a survivor want, and out of that came better healing, but also identifying way more perpetrators,” Hull said.

A similar program has now been developed at the Southern Oregon University in Ashland and Hull’s program served as the model for proposals in Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand’s Campus Accountability and Safety Act. Perhaps You Have Options can serve as an example for other programs around the country.

 

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 31, 2014

Activists pick up mattresses across the country, schools bring in professional investigators, and a statistical analysis of the increase in reported sexual assaults.

Emma Sulkowicz Has Inspired a Mattress-Carrying Movement

If you follow news about sexual assault on college campuses you’ve almost certainly heard of Emma Sulkowicz, a sexual assault victim/survivor who is carrying her mattress everywhere she goes on the Columbia campus until her assailant is removed from the university, or leaves of his own volition. As her story has gained more and more attention, Sulkowicz has received help carrying her mattress from supporters on the Columbia campus. Now, activists and supporters around the country are helping Emma bear her burden, albeit metaphorically, by carrying mattresses on campus in a #carrythatweight Day of Action meant to raise awareness about sexual assault and show support for victim/survivors of sexual violence. Search the hashtag to see images of activists across the country inspired by Sulkowicz’s senior thesis.

Schools Bring in Outside Investigators to Handle Sexual Assault Cases

Schools having trouble training faculty and administrators to act as criminal investigators are increasingly turning to outside help to resolve on-campus sexual assault cases, often in the form of actual or former criminal investigators. This NPR piece profiles one such investigator, former prosecutor Djuna Perkins, who has helped schools such as Harvard, Emerson, and Amherst investigate sexual assaults. Perkins discusses the difficulties and complications posed by sexual assault cases, and the necessity of looking past facts that less experienced investigators might automatically assume to be indicative of consent. The piece also takes a look at why schools must conduct investigations, as opposed to simply passing such cases on to local law enforcement, and the unique difficulties that can be created by simultaneous law enforcement and university investigations.

A Statistical Analysis of the Increase in Sexual Assault Reporting

Another story that anyone who follows these issues will have seen is the increase in reported sexual assaults in this year’s Clery Annual Security Reports. We’ve written in the past that, perhaps counter-intuitively, the increase in reported sexual assaults is most likely a positive development in the fight against campus sexual violence. This piece from the Washington Post goes deeper into that idea, taking a look at possible explanations for some of the largest increases reported by schools across the country. They point out, for example, that one of the largest increases in reported sexual assaults occurred at Gallaudent University, a school for the deaf and blind whose students may not be able to report to anyone other than the sign language speaking staff and faculty, precluding the possibility that reports would go to law enforcement. Similarly, students at Reed College, another school with a notable increase in reported violence, have demanded that Reed improve their response to sexual violence on campus. The piece speculates that improved procedures are responsible for a bump in the percentage of assaults reported, as opposed to an increase in the number of actual assaults. It’s all yet more evidence that more reporting is a positive development.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 24, 2014

Here’s the latest news in sexual violence prevention efforts.

What Happens to Perpetrators Who Transfer?

Plenty has been made of American colleges and universities’ failure to investigate and hold responsible perpetrators of sexual assault. This Huffington Post piece asks a different question. What’s to stop a perpetrator who is being investigated, or has been held responsible for their actions, from transferring to a different institution, where they will have the opportunity to perpetrate the same crimes all over again? The answer, unfortunately, appears to be nothing. Very few schools forward information about completed or ongoing disciplinary investigations involving students transferring to other institutions, and few if any schools request such information when accepting transfers. The piece notes a number of cases in which students investigated or even expelled for sexual violence, sometimes at multiple schools, were accepted at other institutions where they went on to continue to commit more assaults. While a school cannot prevent a student from withdrawing, or enforce sanctions after they have transferred, activists in the article suggest that, in light of research showing that many perpetrators of sexual assault are serial predators, some sort of system should be implemented to standardize what information about students’ disciplinary records is shared when they transfer from one institution to another.

Could a New Online Tool Increase Reporting?

That’s what the would-be creators of a new online-reporting tool called Callisto believe. The tool, designed by nonprofit company Sexual Health Innovations with input from anti-sexual violence groups, including Know Your IX, Faculty Against Rape, and End Rape on Campus, would allow victim/survivors to report their assaults online. They could then choose to submit the report or not submit, in which case it would be saved it as a time-stamped report. It would also show victim/survivors whether the accused perpetrator had been implicated in other incidents. Sexual Health Innovation’s Founder and Executive Director, Jessica Ladd, says that interviews that went into the tool’s development suggest it could triple reporting. Callisto, which has not yet been fully developed, is currently fundraising on crowdfunding-platform Crowdrise, where it has blown past an initial $10,000 goal. The folks behind Callisto plan to continue fundraising, estimating that development will ultimately cost around $200,000. If you want to donate or learn more, follow the link above.

Federal Sexual Violence Investigations Up 50%

On the topic of increased reporting, the number of federal investigations of schools suspected of mishandling sexual assault cases has increased by 50% since the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights first began releasing the list of schools being investigated. The list of schools, which includes UC Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and Princeton University, has increased from 59 schools to 89 since May. According to Assistant Education Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon , “The list is growing partly because we’ve told people we will be there for them. And there’s value in coming to us.” While the growth in the number of federal investigations may represent a positive development in that respect, it also represents a challenge, given the lengthy process of investigating a school’s sexual assault response and determining what steps should be taken to correct any shortcomings. Investigations have been known to take as long as four years from start to finish.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, October 17, 2014

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In recognition of the occasion, as well as a very serious and important issue on college campuses, we have three stories for you about domestic and dating violence and what can be done to prevent it.

Sexual Assault Activists Turning Their Attention to Dating Violence

After successfully starting a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses, and beginning to create actual change around the issue, feminist activists are turning their attention to another very important topic: domestic and dating violence amongst college students. The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act added a provision to the Clery Act requiring schools to disclose the number of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking incidents reported on campus. Now, student activists are documenting institutions that have failed to comply with new requirements. The issue of relationship violence on college campuses is a particularly pressing one, given research suggesting that college-aged women are the most likely to be victim/survivors of dating and domestic violence. Hopefully, some of the same tactics that have been shown to help prevent sexual assaults, including bystander intervention and training, will help turn the tide against domestic and dating violence as well.

What Can Employers Do for Victim/Survivors of Domestic Violence?

Of course, domestic violence is a threat not just to college-aged women but to people of all ages. That ugly fact has an equally ugly corollary: that domestic violence can often spill over into the workplace. This piece, from Fast Company, recognizes that fact, and suggests a few simple measures that employers can take to protect their employees from potentially dangerous intimate partners. Author Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., a Manhattan District Attorney, notes the importance of recognizing the signs that an employee is being abused and offering victim/survivors support in the workplace. Specifically, he points out that, “Companies should have proactive mechanisms in place to support victims, provide them with services, and keep them safe.” He recommends simple but important steps such as tailoring a victim/survivor’s schedule and work location to their needs, making security aware of the situation and the identity of the abuser, and having an emergency contact in the event the victim/survivor cannot be reached.

Can Training Prevent Domestic Violence?

The NFL has caught a fair amount of well-deserved flak this season for its accommodating stance towards players widely known to be guilty of domestic abuse. There are, of course, any number of things the NFL could and should have done better. One particularly interesting suggestion comes from violence prevention educator Jackson Katz, who has worked with NFL players in the past. Katz is part of the Mentors in Violence Program, which trains young men not to perpetrate sexual and domestic violence. He believes that a more consistent anti-domestic violence training program in the NFL could help change a culture that tacitly accepts violence against women. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has promised to implement just such a program for all players in the wake of this year’s scandals. It may well be that training in other settings—including academic ones—could be a much needed step to combat domestic violence in society beyond the football field.

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